I guess I really hadn’t thought about it until one day, as I was sitting outside feeding Big Daddy, a keeper came up to me and said, “So that’s Big Daddy!”
We talk about Big Daddy at the animal hospital at the San Diego Zoo all the time. You hear the radio calls, “bring Big Daddy to the treatment room,” “I’m outside with Big Daddy,” “Can you bring more kingworms for Big Daddy?” “Is there a mister for Big Daddy?” and on and on. You may be wondering at this point: who is this Big Daddy and why is he getting all this attention at the hospital?
Well, Big Daddy is a very charismatic and rare Parson’s chameleon who has been having some foot problems. And he is just a great guy to have around. We cater to his every need with daily foot soaks, watering, and hand feeding of crickets and kingworms; and not just any crickets and kingworms, these are meal-fed bugs! He has his own room that is kept at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) and 85 percent humidity. There are misters, plants, vines, and a special lamp for a sunning area in his pen that is set up in this specially prepared room. Then on warm days his pen can be rolled outside so he can get some natural sun. Not too shabby for a long-term hospital resident. Most of us caring for him are envious of his medical coverage!
Big Daddy has a lot of personality so it isn’t a bad deal when it’s your turn to care for him. He loves sitting on a lap or arm as you rest in the sun; his head goes up, his eyes half close, then he waits patiently as you begin presenting bugs and water for him to eat and drink. He’s got a pretty good appetite, too! He has eaten up to 17 crickets and 8 kingworms in one sitting! That’s not even counting the 0.5 ounces (15 milliliters) of water he drinks. You’d think he’d be a big guy, but he only weighs 16.8 ounces (477 grams). Pretty light for someone who enjoys the all-you-can-eat buffet!
We don’t usually get very long term patient’s at the Zoo’s hospital, just every once in awhile. But when it does happen, it is nice to get to know them. We really enjoy their company and the change of pace they bring. And I must admit that I think they enjoy our company, too, or at least the waiting hand and foot service we provide. I know I would!
Yvette Kemp is a senior hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo.
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